Every Wednesday, Kumiko spends a few hours visiting with Agatha, a 94-year-old neighbor in Brooklyn. They met five years ago through the Citymeals' Friendly Visiting program, which pairs volunteers with elderly New Yorkers in need of companionship. Since then, they have forged a fast friendship that nurtures them both.
As a school teacher and mother, Kumiko spends much of her day with children. She has always enjoyed the company of older people, though, and felt something was missing in her life. “Sadly, in my day-to-day life in New York City, there isn’t much intergenerational connection. I had a desire to connect with older people on a personal level,” she says.
Now she and Agatha enjoy long chats about current events and politics. “Agatha has so many interesting perspectives. Sometimes she surprises herself with what she can recall or what she has to say about something,” Kumiko reflects.
Agatha was just a teenager when she arrived in New York City from Trinidad. “She moved into our neighborhood when she was 19 and she’s seen it go through so many changes. That is a history I wasn’t here for, and she shares that with me.”
“Quality of life is so much more than medical care, nutrition and maintaining the household. It is so import to feel a vital part of the community, and I hope Agatha does.”
Now Agatha struggles with blindness and rarely leaves home. Kumiko helps bring the outside world to Agatha and enable her to feel connected to her community. “I can tell her what church is being renovated or what store is closing,” Kumiko says. She also helped Agatha become involved in a pen-pal program with a local fourth grade class, eventually hosting them for a visit at her home.
Establishing a meaningful relationship takes time, Kumiko points out – to understand what is important to the other person and what they need. “It’s like any other friendship, and you have to roll with these things,” she explains.
Over the last several years, Kumiko’s daughters, ages 12 and 14, have also grown close Agatha. “That relationship has been so valuable to them – to get to know her, to learn how to take things at a slower pace and communicate with someone who is older,” Kumiko explains.
Volunteering as a friendly visitor has emphasized for Kumiko how important it is for older people to feel recognized and connected in a social way. “Quality of life is so much more than medical care, nutrition and maintaining the household. It is so import to feel a vital part of the community, and I hope Agatha does.”
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